DU Faculty and Students Support Award-Winning Podcast at History Colorado
History matters. That’s what Alice Major, a student at the University of Denver, has taken to heart during a recent internship. In summer of 2019, Major, who majors in history and vocal performance, interned at History Colorado’s podcast, "Lost Highways: Dispatches from the Shadows of the Rocky Mountains."
"Lost Highways" was recently awarded “Best History Podcast” in Westword and received a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The podcast is a group effort that brings together DU faculty and students, the Sturm Family Foundation, History Colorado and seasoned podcasters Tyler Hill and Noel Black.
“I knew that working on a podcast could be a great career opportunity, and I love working on local history,” Major says, “so I jumped at the opportunity.”
During the internship, Major served as a research assistant for two in-depth episodes, proofread, fact-checked and helped put together the successful NEH grant application to fund season two. As part of a small team, Major got to experience what happens behind the scenes to bring a podcast to life.
“Working on the podcast was a great blend of independent work and collaboration. I would bounce ideas around with members of the team, then go down relevant rabbit holes of research. I got to take dusty archival material and help synthesize and translate it into something more accessible.”
"Lost Highways" is written and produced by Hill and Black. Hill focuses on production, while Black does the editorial work; both co-host the podcast episodes. Now in their second season, the duo uses podcasting to explore dialogues and debates that shape Colorado.
“A lot of documentary podcasts are extremely story driven and prioritize the narrative aspect above all else,” Hill explains. “My favorite part of working [with DU] has been the opportunity to make the podcast more of a research-intensive ‘deep dive.’”
Since the start of the podcast in summer 2018, DU Professor of History Susan Schulten has supported this research-intensive focus.
“DU alumnus Stephen Sturm, who wrote his history thesis under my direction a few years ago, approached me to help shape a new podcast at History Colorado. It has been a great (and humbling) experience for me to work in a new medium.”
Schulten has helped Hill and Black develop ideas and edit scripts, while providing historical expertise. This approach allows the podcast to combine accessible storytelling with a wealth of academic knowledge and resources.
“Tyler and Noel are experts at drawing out the fascinating and powerful relevance of our shared history,” says Schulten. “They have explored the little known local roots of gay marriage rights, the powerful history of all-black communities on the high plains, the efforts to reckon with the egregious treatment of Native American tribes and — most recently — the consequences of the 1918 flu pandemic here in Colorado.”
Hill explains episode topics like these would not have been the same without Schulten’s expertise and Major’s dedicated work as an intern.
“Susan’s vast historical knowledge and keen eye as an editor have been invaluable to the podcast. It’s safe to say these episodes would have been significantly less informative without her.”
Hill continues: “It’s been so fun to work on a project that starts with a story but ends up being about so much more. The ‘deep dive’ nature of these episodes, and the way we’re able to contextualize the stories by unpacking all the history and research, really sets these episodes apart from anything I’ve worked on in the past.”
What’s so important about diving into the past? As Major emphasizes, “History is all around us and it can help us understand and appreciate what’s going on in our world. The wheelchair ramps on RTD buses — those are the result of an episode in history!”
“This podcast connects the abstract importance of history to my life as a resident of Colorado,” Major continues. “I feel a greater sense of depth moving through the streets of Denver, knowing the history presented in these episodes.”